American singer and songwriter Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday. The Swedish Academy said Dylan ‘created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition’.
Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman in 1941 and began his musical career in 1959, playing in coffee houses in Minnesota. Much of his best-known work dates from the 1960s, when he became an informal historian of America’s troubles. Songs like Blowin’ in the Wind and The Times They are A-Changin’ became anthems of the anti-war and civil rights movements.
He is the first American to win since the novelist Toni Morrison, in 1993. Although Dylan has been mentioned often as having an outside shot at the prize, his work does not fit into the traditional literary canons of novels, poetry and short stories that the prize has traditionally recognized.
In recent years, the prize has gone to a stylistically and geographically diverse group of writers, among them the Belarussian journalist Svetlana Alexievich in 2015, French novelist Patrick Modiano in 2014, Canadian short story writer Alice Munro in 2013, Chinese novelist and short story writer Mo Yan in 2012, and Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer in 2011.
Dylan had long been tipped as a potential Nobel recipient but few experts expected the academy to extend the prestigious award to a genre such as folk rock music. The prize, one of the world’s most prestigious and financially generous awards, comes with a prize of 8 million Swedish kronor ($900,000).
The literature prize is given for a lifetime of writing rather than for single work.